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I have posted before about my great admiration for the music of Mark Knopfler, the former Dire Straits front man who has continued to release solo albums, compose movie soundtracks, and collaborate with an incredibly diverse group of artists across a wide range of musical genres.  He is a master of the guitar.  His unique variation of the “clawhammer” fingerpicking style and his signature tone are immediately recognizable.  As a lyricist, he is a gifted musical storyteller.  Kim and I had the opportunity to see Knopfler perform in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium in 2005 and at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis in 2010 on an anniversary trip.

I was thrilled to learn earlier in the year that Knopfler would be touring North America with Bob Dylan this fall, just as they had done in Europe late last year.  The musical relationship between the two dates back over 30 years, with Knopfler playing lead guitar on Dylan’s 1979 album, Slow Train Coming, and producing another Dylan album in the early ’80s.

When the tour dates were announced on Knopfler’s website a few months ago, my eyes lit up when I saw Tulsa on the itinerary.  Then, my heart sank like a rock when I saw that the T-Town concert would be on November 2, the night that I was to attend a wedding rehearsal dinner in Plano, Texas.  The wedding date had been booked since March, and I felt extremely honored to be asked to perform the ceremony for Taylor Grow, whom I have known since she was 10 years old.  There was no way that I was not going to be there for Taylor and Eric on that Friday night.

What are the odds that, on the only night in my life that Knopfler was going to perform in the city where I live, I would be out of town?

HOWEVER… my spirits skyrocketed when I noticed that on Thursday night, November 1, Dylan and Knopfler were playing at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie, just a stone’s throw (in Texas distance, anyway) from where we were going to be on Friday.  Incredible!  All we had to do was extend the trip by one day on the front end for a concert on Thursday night, rehearsal dinner on Friday night, and wedding on Saturday night.

My interest in the concert was purely to hear Mark Knopfler play again, but I was rather intrigued by the prospect of seeing Bob Dylan.  Along the same lines of my recent post about A&M Records being founded in the year of my birth, Dylan’s first studio album was released in 1962.  With this year’s release of Tempest, Dylan has issued 35 studio albums over the last 50 years.  When you add in live albums, compilations, etc., his catalog includes a mind-boggling 71 titles.  Dylan fan or not, you’ve got to respect that kind of longevity and his unquestioned influence on the American music scene over the last half century.  I never followed him closely, but I particularly remember his Christian-influenced phase in the late ’70s and his collaboration with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison as a member of the Traveling Wilburys in the late ’80s.  Among my favorite Dylan lyrics is a line from “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.”

One of the biggest knocks on Bob Dylan over the last several years has been that his performances are highly unpredictable.  He tends to remain ambivalently detached and aloof from the audience and almost never plays a song in an arrangement similar to its studio version.  And his voice?  Music critics have described Dylan’s voice in recent years as a “zombie bullfrog holler,” “a hoarse Fred Sanford after an all-night fight with Lamont,” and “sounds as if he’s been gargling with gravel for the last several decades.”  After reading reviews of earlier tour stops in Canada and on the West Coast, I wasn’t expecting a lot.  But, I was pleasantly surprised.  Kim particularly enjoyed his set.  Despite his general unintelligibility and my unfamiliarity with all but four or five of the songs that he played, it was nice to see this musical living legend.  At 71 years of age, he’s still at it.  I’m 50 and haven’t even managed to crank out my first book yet, so who am I to criticize anyone?

Of course, the night belonged to Knopfler, despite the fact that he and his band of world-class musicians were technically the opening act.  Their 70-minute set was a masterful performance.  I could have listened all night.  While I paid more for our 14th row, center section seats than I typically would, it was well worth it and served as my 50th birthday present to myself and Kim.

As I mentioned in my last post, it has always “taken a village” with our son Coleman.  Kim and I couldn’t have enjoyed the concert if it hadn’t been for Mark and Laura Bryson, our dear friends and former co-workers at the McDermott Road church.  They let Coleman hang out with them at home, just as they did on Friday night while we attended the rehearsal dinner.  They are like family to us.  On Saturday night, other friends who are extremely near and dear to our hearts, Russell and Vicki Selman, kept him while we were at the wedding.  Coleman just couldn’t stop smiling and jumping when he saw Ms. Vicki.

After sharing in the joy of Taylor and Eric’s wedding, we picked up Coleman at the Selman’s house, then made the four-hour drive back to Tulsa.  We were home by 1:00 a.m., which actually amounted to midnight because of the shift back to Standard Time that night.  I was grateful for the bonus of another hour’s sleep.

Music, marriage, the fellowship of friends, and a getaway with my family.  November got off to a great start!

On September 24 of this year, Kim and I had the surreal experience of standing before a judge, seeking to make as clear and compelling a case as possible as to why we should be granted legal guardianship of our son Coleman.  There are very few subjects about which I feel that I possess an expert level of knowledge, probably only one, and Coleman is it.  Still, it was rather unnerving and intimidating for us to be providing answers to questions about his condition and his daily care to a person who had the legal authority to either grant or deny guardianship.  We felt the intense gravity of the situation every time we heard Coleman referred to as a “ward” during the proceeding.  I now have a little insight into the emotional implications of being “at the mercy of the court.”

We have known for years that we would need to secure legal guardianship of Coleman after he turned 18.  From a parental standpoint, this seemed totally counterintuitive.  We have cared for him every single day of his life, through all of the ups and downs, joys and sorrows, victories and setbacks that accompany developmental disabilities and chronic illness.  He was indisputably “ours.”  However, from a legal standpoint, when he reached adulthood it would be necessary to demonstrate that he was incapable of caring for himself and that we were the ones best suited to continue providing for his health and well-being.

Despite our realization that this would be required at some point, it remained a “back burner” concern for us, even after he celebrated his 18th birthday early last year.  However, the issue got moved to the front burner very quickly in August when Coleman’s sedation dentistry procedure was cancelled by the surgical center on the day before it was scheduled to be performed because we did not have legal guardianship.  Suddenly, what had only existed as a vague concept for us now took on serious, concrete implications.  While Kim has lived in constant “advocacy mode” for Coleman for almost 20 years, she once again shifted that labor of love into warp drive with a flurry of phone calls.  Within a few days, we appeared before a judge on August 27 to gain emergency, temporary guardianship and had the hearing for permanent guardianship set for September 24.

It has always “taken a village” with Coleman, and God has consistently and faithfully provided the right people at the right time, in moments of both crisis and calm.  We are extremely grateful to Jerry Lundy (friend, brother in Christ, attorney), for helping us traverse the very unfamiliar legal landscape of the guardianship process.  Also, we deeply appreciate the counsel and practical insights shared with us by our friends Bill and Lawana Duwe, who for many years have provided 24/7 care for their son Ray who was disabled in a car accident.

At the end of the hearing, which was dominated by extremely matter-of-fact (somewhat stern) questions and statements by the judge, the tone became significantly more “human” and compassionate as she expressed her understanding and appreciation of the challenging demands of raising a disabled child and her confidence that Coleman would continue to be ably provided for under our care and guardianship.  While the petition was entirely uncontested and we couldn’t foresee any reason why the court would find otherwise, it was still a huge relief to see the judge sign the guardianship documents and witness them being embossed with the official seal of the court.

While Kim and I were somewhat perplexed and stressed by having to go through the guardianship process for Coleman, we understand that these legal statutes exist as part of the “ordinance of God” (Romans 13:1-7), serving to protect the interests of those in our society who are the most helpless, the most defenseless, and the most susceptible to being used and abused by others.  It is an extension of God’s own concern, care, and protection.

The language and status of guardianship caused me to reflect upon our relationship with our God and Savior.

I Peter 2:25 reads, “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls,” (New American Standard Bible).  The New Living Translation joins the NASB in rendering this second descriptive term of Jesus Christ as being our “Guardian.”  Other standard English translations go with “Bishop” or “Overseer” (it’s episkopos, for you Greek geeks).  The Aramaic Bible in Plain English translates, “the Caregiver of your souls.”

I love this figure of Jesus being our spiritual Guardian and Caregiver.  The language in the guardianship document stipulates that Kim and I are to act on Coleman’s behalf to “promote and protect” his well-being, doing things for him that he is entirely incapable of doing for himself.  That is precisely what has been done for us by “the Great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant,” (Hebrews 13:20).  Though we rightfully belonged to God as children made in the Creator’s own image, the guardianship of our souls was thrown into question because of sin and was fiercely contested by an Adversary and an Accuser.  It took the blood of Jesus Christ to satisfy the Court of the Most High.  We have now been sealed with the Holy Spirit, who serves as an authoritative mark of identification, authenticating the fact that we have been returned to the care and protection of our rightful Father.

It’s good to have a Guardian!

Sorry, Aggie friends!  I hope that the title wasn’t misleading.  This post doesn’t have anything to do with your beloved university, although, while I’m at it, I would sincerely like to say that it’s great to have you in the SEC.  The excellence of your football program has been immediately felt in the conference, you made quite a statement when you knocked off top-ranked Alabama on their home field a couple of weeks ago, and Johnny Football is the real deal.  Welcome!

As indicated by the accompanying logo, this post concerns A&M Records which was founded in 1962.  That’s right!  A&M and I were born the same year, and we sort of grew up together.

I occasionally mention in blog posts that music was a big part of my adolescence.  I was never extremely outgoing when I was growing up, “a bit of a brooder,” as one of my high school friends remembers.  I was pleasant enough, always had a group of friends, and used athletics as a social outlet, but I was naturally quite introverted (still am).  I really didn’t mind spending time alone, especially if it was spent listening to music.

Do you remember cabinet stereos?  Mom and Dad had an incredible cabinet stereo (RCA, I believe), complete with a turntable, AM/FM tuner, reel-to-reel tape deck, and a great set of speakers.  It must have been six feet (maybe more) in length and was well-crafted from quality materials.  It was actually a beautiful piece of furniture.  It also had a headphone jack, which allowed me to lay on the floor in front of the stereo with tunes from my favorites bands playing directly (and loudly) into my ears without any parental admonitions to “turn that music down!”

Included in my parents’ record collection that I remember as a little boy in the late 1960s were several albums by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.  The A&M Records emblem on the album covers bore the image of a trumpet, but I never made the connection between the logo and Alpert, a world-class trumpeter and composer.  As I learned from a story on NPR last week marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of A&M, it was Alpert himself who formed the label in 1962 with recording executive Jerry Moss.  Alpert is the “A” and Moss is the “M” in A&M.  Who knew?

A&M recorded numerous artists whose music found their way into the storage compartment of my parents’ cabinet stereo, including Herb Alpert, Burt Bacharach, and the Carpenters.  But the label continued to grow and expand exponentially in the ’70s and ’80s, signing performers that would make it into my album collection, A&M artists like Peter Frampton, Styx, the Police, Supertramp, and others.

I won’t detail all of the corporate buyouts, mergers, and lawsuits that ultimately affected the record label in subsequent years, but the NPR story brought back some great childhood memories for me, informed me of Alpert’s role in the founding of the company, and caused me to reflect on music’s ongoing influence in my life.

So, “Happy Birthday, A&M!”  I’m glad that we both made it to 50, at least in some semblance of our former selves!

Today I want to share a few final thoughts and observations as I bring this Gethsemani Journal series of blog posts to a close.

I want to thank the shepherds of the Broken Arrow church where I serve for seeing the long-term value in providing for an annual week-long sabbatical for the ministry staff.  While I have benefited greatly in past years from attending conferences, seminars, lectureships, and one-week intensive seminary courses, I have never gained so much spiritual refreshment and renewal as I did during the week that I spent in a silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

I also want to thank the Trappist monks who live, serve, and receive guests at the Abbey for the warm welcome, the gracious accommodations, and the idyllic setting that are provided for retreatants.  I was blessed by your kindness and hospitality.

My sabbatical week caused me to rethink our typical approach to what we commonly call “retreats.”

First of all, when I normally mention to someone that I am going to be attending a retreat, one of the first questions that I am asked is, “Are you speaking?”  The assumption is that I will be teaching and/or leading some sort of discussion.  It was wonderfully refreshing, not just to be freed from the preparation of lessons and the preoccupation of presenting them, but to be relieved from talking altogether.  “No, I won’t be speaking this week; at all!”

Secondly, I returned from this silent retreat incredibly rested and refreshed (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), rather than the usual feeling of exhaustion that accompanies the end of a retreat.  That’s because most retreats could be more accurately described as “Bible Boot Camps” or “Fellowship Free-for-Alls.”  Roll out of bed at dawn, breakfast, clean-up, lecture, break, discussion group, lunch, clean-up, lecture, 15-minute quiet time, discussion group, team-building exercise, dinner, clean-up, evening worship, cards and board games, campfire and s’mores, lights out, rinse and repeat.  If you’re not exhausted, then you’re just not trying.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  My intention is not to trample on anyone’s fond memories of such events or to devalue the blessings  that can come from them, but simply to suggest that maybe we could find something else to call them instead of “retreats.”

I have already been asked about the possibility of planning a silent retreat for those who would be interested in attending and sharing in the experience.  It could be still be hosted at a traditional camp or retreat center.  The format would just be significantly different, and the schedule, well, there really wouldn’t be much of a schedule.  It would take some creativity and a paradigm shift, but the retreat could center around silence, prayer, reading of Scripture and devotional literature, meditation, journaling, rest, etc.  I am not so naive or idealistic as to think that this would appeal to everyone, but I am confident that there are many who would jump at the opportunity to share in a silent retreat.

“Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while,” said Jesus (Mark 6:31).   We would be wise to accept His invitation.

Fruitcake and cheese made by the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani

Retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani are “silent, unstructured, and undirected.”  As I have mentioned earlier in this series, retreatants are pretty much on their own to pursue their own spiritual goals and objectives for the week in a context of silence and solitude.  However, in addition to being welcome at all of the daily hours of prayer in the chapel, a morning lecture was provided at 8:30 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  I took advantage of this opportunity each morning to hear from one of the resident monks and to gain more insight into monastic life at the Abbey.

The morning lectures were shared in a conference room, which was one of the two or three designated areas in the retreat house where conversation was permitted.  Still, when the other retreatants and I entered the room after breakfast, we all sat in silence until time for the lecture to begin.  This was not awkward silence, but respectful silence.  In most other group settings in life, we often feel pressured or compelled to speak, regardless of whether we actually have anything to say.  It was nice to be a context where mutual permission was granted not to break the silence.

The presentations each morning were made by the guestmaster, Brother Christian, who has been of a part of the monastic community at Gethsemani for 38 years.  Although he did not mention his hometown, my fairly confident guess would be Brooklyn in New York City.  It struck me that, even after living in Kentucky for nearly four decades, one’s accent probably doesn’t change very much when you spend most of your life in silence.  Brother Christian was informative, gracious, engaging, and displayed a very robust sense of humor.  Below are just a few of the valuable nuggets that I gained from these morning lectures.

  • The primary elements of life for the Trappist monks at the Abbey are prayer, work, and spiritual reading.  However, as was pointed out, these are not uniquely monastic, but rather universally human and needful for everyone.
  • The walls are not intended to keep people out, but to keep noise out.  Silence, solitude, and seclusion need to be practiced by all Christians on a smaller scale as we build “cloister walls” within our lives for prayer and the reading of Scripture, which are just as necessary as physical food and drink each day.  Reducing the noise can be as simple as turning off the radio during your morning and afternoon drive time for spiritual reflection and prayer.
  • The monastery is noted for their production of cheese, fruitcake, and fudge.  A thriving mail order business, particularly in the last three months of each year, provides the monks with the means to “pay the bills, give to charity, and maintain the monastery and guest house.”  Despite a huge demand for their products, they resist the pressure to turn the monastery into a year-round factory or a “zoo.”  Brother Christian said, “Our goal is to make a living, not a killing.”  I don’t know if that was original or not, but it is brilliant.  How many people in this world are not content to make a “living,” but instead will sacrifice themselves, their values, and even their families in order to make a “killing?”
  • Living in community with others is challenging.  “Bearing with one another” means setting an example of not getting flustered over those things in life that are not that grave.  It also means being patient with “holy bunglers,” those well-intentioned people who try to be helpful, but somehow manage to regularly mess things up for you and your plans.  Later that day in the garden, there was a pesky fly that was obsessively drawn to the surface of my yellow legal pad as I was trying to write.  After numerous failed attempts to shoo it away, I contented myself with its presence, decided to just work around it, and named my new insect friend “Holy Bungler.”
  • From the rather brief Commemoration of Mary that was sung at the end of the hours of prayer, I was beginning to think that perhaps Mary was more ancillary to Catholic teaching and practice than I had presumed.  Thursday morning’s lecture cleared that up and communicated in very detailed fashion just how essential her role is in the work of salvation and the life of the Roman Catholic Church.  Brother Christian was very open about the fact that this teaching did not emerge directly from the pages of Scripture, but had rather been revealed through the Doctors of the Church and mystics down through the ages.  Though my understanding of the person and role of Mary in Scripture is radically different, I was still extremely grateful for a very beneficial, enlightening, and clarifying presentation on the subject.

In addition to this “food for thought” each day, samples of the Abbey’s cheese, fruitcake, and fudge were provided at various times during the week in the dining room.  The aged Trappist cheese was incredibly flavorful; I had some every day with my lunch and dinner.  Despite the “bad rap” that fruitcake has gotten in contemporary culture, it brought back some great childhood Christmas memories for me, and I would highly recommend it if you are a “fan of the fruitcake.”  By the way, the “special little something” comes from being soaked in Kentucky bourbon.  And the fudge?  Well, how can you go wrong with fudge!?!  So, if you are looking for a unique Christmas gift to mail to that “hard-to-shop-for” friend or relative, you may want to do some browsing here.

My silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in September provided an incredible, distraction-free week of prayer, reading, meditation, introspection, writing, and spiritual renewal.  It also provided a glimpse into the monastic life of the Trappists who live, work, and worship there.

As mentioned previously, the Abbey was founded in December of 1848.  Since then, the resident monks have observed 7 daily hours of prayer, rain or shine, summer and winter, in wartime and peace, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for the last 164 years.  While some European monasteries might still consider the Gethsemani monks as “new kids on the block,” 164 years is a long time in this country.

Having spent my entire life worshipping in a manner that would be categorized in ecclesiastical terms as non-liturgical and “low church,” it was enlightening to visit the guest chapel which adjoins the main sanctuary.  The seven daily services that make up the Liturgy of the Hours are Vigils (3:15 a.m.), Lauds (5:45 a.m.), Terce (7:30 a.m.), Sext (12:15 p.m.), None (2:15 p.m.), Vespers (5:30 p.m.), and Compline (7:30 p.m.).  These do not literally last an “hour” each.  Vigils is the longest at about 45 minutes or so, and all seven combine for 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 hours each day.  Mass is also celebrated every morning.

Over the course of the week, I attended each of these hours of prayer at least once, with the exception of Mass.  I attended Vigils on two mornings at 3:15 a.m. (partially to see what it was like to assemble at that hour of the morning) and Compline each evening at 7:30.  At the heart of each of these services were the Psalms, with all 150 of them being sung or recited every two weeks in a liturgical cycle that is repeated 26 times a year.  The services also include prayers, hymns, Scripture readings, and a commemoration of Mary (which will be further discussed in the next post).

Despite the very significant ecclesiastical divide that exists between Catholic theology and practice and my own understanding of Scripture and the life of the church, there was still much with which I was impressed in the Liturgy of the Hours.  First and foremost was the centrality of the Scriptures, whether in song, reading, or recitation.  It is only through regularity, rhythm, and repetition that the Word of God can truly become written on our hearts and etched into our consciences.  It takes an incredible amount of commitment and discipline to allow every single day of one’s life to be regulated by hours of prayer that begin at 3:15 a.m.  How often do I “rise before dawn” to commune with my God and Savior in prayer and the reading of His Word?  How frequently do I pause throughout the day to turn my heart, my mind, and my lips heavenward?

A beautiful doxology is sung several times during each service: “Praise the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, both now and forever; the God who is, who was, and is to come at the end of the ages.”

While the liturgy during the other hours of prayer differs every day in the two-week cycle, the Compline service is the same each evening, 365 days a year.  Psalm 4 and Psalm 91 are sung, which include the thoughts, “I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8) and “you will not fear the terror of the night…nor the plague that prowls in the darkness” (Ps. 91:5-6).  These are psalms of trust in the Lord and confidence in His protection.

Of particular beauty and appropriateness at the close of the day are two other songs which are sung during Compline each evening.  The first is an ancient hymn, the lyrics of which are attributed to Ambrose (c. 330 – 397 AD).

Before the ending of the day
Creator of the world, we pray
That with Thy gracious favor, Thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now

From fears and terrors of the night
Defend us, Lord, by Thy great might
And when we close our eyes in sleep
Let hearts with Christ their vigil keep

O Father, this we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, Thine only Son
Who with the Paraclete and Thee
Now lives and reigns eternally


The other is “Antiphon for Canticle of Simeon”:

Lord, save us, save us while we are awake
Protect while we are asleep
That we may keep our watch with Christ

And when we sleep, rest in His peace

This service, about 15 minutes in length, seemed to effectively put one in a frame of readiness to retire for the night, which I suppose is extremely helpful if you have to be up at 3:00 each day!

The greatest personal “take away” for me from these services was a renewed commitment to delight in the words of Scripture and meditate on them day and night (Psalm 1:2) and to treasure His Word in my heart (Psalm 119:11).  If the monks at the Abbey can sing through the Psalms every two weeks, surely I could read through this book of sacred poems every week as part of a morning and evening devotional reading schedule.  It is one of the spiritual disciplines and goals that I am considering for 2013.

“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous law.”  (Psalm 119:164)

I plan on bringing this Gethsemani Journal series to a close with another post or two in the next few days.

From today, Monday, November 12, there are 7 weeks left in 2012, the Mayan calendar notwithstanding.  It’s hard to believe that the year has gotten away from us this quickly.  7 weeks!  Sounds Biblical, doesn’t it?  49 days to do … what?

Let me encourage you to resist the urge to just coast to the end of 2012.  Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and there is a tendency at this time of year to slip into the “Holiday Rut” of traditional, habitual, expected, comfortable activities and routines.

Let me challenge you to finish strong!  Don’t wait until the new year (if God grants it) to recommit and “re-resolve” to pursue goals that you set last January.  Ramp it up, get after it, cut loose, put your heart into achieving something worthwhile that will benefit both yourself and others, body and soul.

  • Spend 15 – 30 minutes each day reading your Bible.
  • Commit to pray for 5 – 10 minutes, three times a day (morning, afternoon, evening), for the rest of the year.
  • Talk to someone who has been on your mind and heart about their relationship with Jesus.
  • Invite someone to join you for worship.
  • Read a new book, or a classic that you have never read.
  • Pay down some debt (yeah, I know Christmas is coming; do it anyway!).
  • Take $50 and do something nice for someone you love, or, better yet, for someone you don’t.
  • Send a card or email of encouragement to someone (friend, family member, minister, missionary, etc.).
  • Restart that exercise regimen.
  • Commit to weigh the same (or less) on January 1 as you do today (again, I know Christmas is coming; do it anyway!).

Don’t like my list? Then make your own! Be creative! Knock yourself out! Get crazy!

Finish Strong!

(Please accept my apologies for interrupting the tranquility of my current blog series for such an unpleasant, but needful, discussion.)

“So, Tim, what do you think about the election?”

To be perfectly honest, not a single person has asked me that question, so my intention has been to keep my thoughts to myself.  What changed my mind was a phone call that I received on Monday from a sweet, kindhearted, generous, elderly Christian woman.  She spoke to me through tears as she described how a fellow believer had told her that she could not be a Christian or have any hope of going to heaven if she voted for a Democrat.   My dear sister was concerned that I was going to be preaching this from the pulpit and feared that a political test of faith would bar her from fellowship and participation in the life of Christ’s body here.  I hope that I sufficiently allayed her fears.  May God be merciful to the souls of those who would cause this kind of offense to His precious children and promote such divisiveness.

Yesterday, I had absolutely no idea who would win the Presidential election.  I didn’t know if I would be praying today for President Obama as he prepared to serve a second term or for Governor Romney as he prepared to be sworn in next January 20 as the 45th President of the United States.  Regardless of the election’s outcome, I was committed to offering prayers on the winner’s behalf (I Tim. 2:1-2), extending the honor and respect that is due to one who holds such an office (I Pet. 2:17), and being as submissive as my faith allows as a citizen of the United States to our government and its leadership (Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-17).

Before I proceed to offend many of my fellow believers, let me affirm that I am a conservative Christian who believes in the inspiration of Scripture, the triune nature of God, salvation in Jesus alone, and what are commonly called Judeo-Christian values and ethics, including the right to life of the unborn and the biblical definition of marriage between one man and one woman (for life, by the way, and not just until the next one).

Over the course of the last four years, I have been saddened, disturbed, and sometimes embarrassed by the politicization of Christian faith and the bitterness, vitriol, spitefulness, ill will, rumormongering, name-calling, “doomsdaying,” and unkind speech from many who profess faith in Jesus Christ and claim to represent Him as disciples.  If you haven’t done this, then I’m not talking to you.  Feel free to skip out on the rest of the discussion, or keep reading if you wish.

Here are a few of my “major maladjustments.”

Far too many Christians have been seduced by the allure of political power, intoxicated by its vain promises, and convinced that any hope for a Christian America lies in the hands of a secular government and a single political party.  Jesus had the opportunity to establish a Christian nation from the get-go.  He passed on that and chose instead to manifest His reign through a borderless spiritual kingdom made up of people from all nations, tribes, and tongues.  The authority, power structures, and military might of the “rulers of the nations” do not figure into the economy of His kingdom.

Much of the conservative, Christian community in the U.S. has been shamefully silent this year on the heterodoxy of Mormonism.  Prominent evangelical leaders “observed the Passover” on the subject and some even backed off of their long-held classification of Mormonism as a cult, not because of new-found, theological common ground with the Latter Day Saints, but for purely political reasons.

I recently saw an admonition for Christians to “choose wise, understanding, and experienced men” (Deut. 1:13) in a religious publication that served as a thinly veiled endorsement for Governor Romney.  Question:  Is a man wise and understanding (or credulous, naive, and foolish?) to base his entire worldview and belief system on myths, legends, fabrications, forgeries, and latter-day “revelations” that are accepted as Holy Scripture?  The editors of the journal apparently believed that “winning” was worth the emboldening, empowering, and further mainstreaming of a faith that is radically foreign to Biblical Christianity.  So did a lot of other people.

Fear, guilt, and manipulation have been used to convince Christians that there was only one vote in this election that would keep them in good standing with their Lord and Savior.  A recent video from Mike Huckabee warned Christians that their votes would be “recorded in eternity.”  Does it not strike anyone else as inexplicably odd that evangelicals, who stress the grace of God to a fault and vehemently reject any hint of “a righteousness of works,” could simultaneously suggest that the way you marked your ballot might “make or break” heaven for you?  Lest you think that I’m somehow biased against Governor Huckabee, you should know that I voted for him four years ago in the Republican primary in Texas.  This is just a prime example of what happens when faith sells out to politics.

While I’m on the subject of irony, have you noticed the following?  When we talk about money and stewardship in our worship assemblies on Sunday, “everything we have belongs to God.”  On Monday, when we start talking politics and taxes, “it’s our money and they can’t take it!”

In the name of faith and patriotism, many American Christians are sowing seeds of destruction.  It was Jesus, and not just Lincoln, who said, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand,” (Matthew 12:25).  While Christians are not to be blamed for creating the gulf in our nation, far too few are working as peacemakers to narrow the gap.  Rather than serving as voices of civility, reason, grace, and purposeful persuasion, many believers are deepening the divide through the thoughtless parroting of inflammatory rhetoric.  The current administration is referred to as a “regime” and “tyrannical” as if it were some Third World dictatorship.  There is widespread talk of “Taking America Back” as though control of the country had been wrested away by a military coup rather than through the democratic processes on which our nation was founded.  Do we despise democracy when it results in the election of officials that we do not support?

Several months ago, I encouraged a brother in Christ, despite his intense dissatisfaction and personal dislike, to still pray for the nation’s Chief Executive.  He sharply responded, “He’s not my President!”  That’s patriotic?  That’s American?  That’s Christian?

As for the persecution and suppression of Christianity in America, I can only speak from personal experience, but neither the exercise of my faith nor the ministry and mission work of the congregation where I serve have been impinged upon or impeded by government interference in the last four years.  I don’t expect that to change in the next four years, regardless of who was elected yesterday.  For the record, I don’t count restrictions on the distribution of candy canes and the prohibition of high school sports banners with out-of-context Scriptures as persecution.  Unfair and wrong, yes!  Persecution, no!

Had Governor Romney been elected yesterday as our next President, I anticipate that, unlike President Obama, he would have been regularly and publicly prayed for by name in numerous Christian assemblies over the next four years.  Many of the Christians that I have just described would be issuing rousing calls for national unity and making impassioned pleas for all Americans to work together despite our differences.  Hypocrisy would be running high.

If the sitting President were more frequently prayed for than pilloried by Christians, then perhaps his positions and performance would more closely conform to our preferences.  If we were as passionate in proclaiming Christ as we are in promoting our politics, maybe we would be closer to the nation of Christians that we seek to be.  The more that Christians are distracted by politics, the more we should seek to identify “the ball” from which Satan has succeeded in diverting our eyes and attention.

First and foremost, I am a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit.  No power on earth can change that.   I am also an American, and one who loves his country very much.  I love it so much, in fact, that I cannot remain silent when I see fellow believers further contributing to its demise and weakening their witness as Christians.

These thoughts and viewpoints are entirely my own and are in no way offered as being representative of those of my family, my congregation, or my friends (real, imaginary, or Facebook).

Peter, James, and John Asleep – Abbey of Gethsemani

Wednesday, September 19

After breakfast, I took advantage of a crystal clear sky and the crisp, windless, 40 degree air and set out on what turned out to be a five-hour excursion along the trails that traverse the 2,000 acres that belong to the Abbey.

My first destination was the Garden of Gethsemane and its statues.  I walked north on the highway a short distance to the trailhead.   Stepping stones soon gave way to a graveled surface on the narrow trail that wound its way through the trees and undergrowth.  The gravel only extended for a short distance, and the remainder of the trail was the hardened dirt that I had expected, packed down firmly by the feet of monks and guests over the course of decades.

I emerged from the shadowy forest into a clearing, and on my left was the Guesthouse Pond, the absolute epitome of peaceful beauty.  The pond, still warm from the summer’s heat, was releasing a low-hanging mist from the surface of the water into the significantly cooler air above.  Passing the pond, I re-entered the wooded trail which began to follow a ridge line.  The trees along the trail were amazing.  This property has been attached to the monastery since 1848, and it was clear that no timber had ever been cut here.  The high canopy overhead and the undergrowth that blanketed the descents along the ridge brought back wonderful boyhood memories of traipsing through the woods in Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.  Few sights are more beautiful and calming to me.

As I entered the area of the Garden, I came to a statue of a reclining Peter, James, and John, depicting the scene of the apostles as they slept.  A bit further down the trail was a statue of Jesus in prayer, His hands covering His anguished face.  I sat quietly for quite some time on a bench that faced the statue.  Then I began softly quoting the Sermon on the Mount, which I first committed to memory over 20 years ago.  I know that the Message on the Mountain (Matthew 5-7) is far removed chronologically from the agony of Christ in the Garden, but it just seemed appropriate in the stillness and quietness of the moment.  The recitation took much longer than usual, as I would pause and reflect between sections of Jesus’ words.

Another trail took me to a fork in the path, literally!  A sign with an arrow pointing to the right read, “To the Cross.”  It struck me that this was the “sign” that Jesus followed throughout the entirety of His earthly life and ministry leading up to Golgotha.  The particular cross that I was seeking, however, was one that sat atop Cross Knob, which appeared on my map of the Abbey’s trails.  Like the previous one, this trail followed a ridge line, ascending toward the crest of a knob that was 800 feet above sea level compared to the Abbey’s location at 570 feet.  At the point where the trail became intensely steep, I saw a couple of sturdy, natural-cut walking sticks leaning against the trunk of a tree.  I sensed an unwritten message which clearly communicated, “Feel free to use these to aid you on your journey to the cross.  When you have completed your journey, return them here to assist the next traveler.”  There are all kinds of useful lessons in that one!

I reached the summit of the trail with my pulse pounding and my breathing labored.  My recent weight loss had not been accompanied by rigorous exercise, so the ascent mercilessly exposed the weakness of my cardio fitness.  This was not a “bald knob” as I had imagined, but one that was still heavily wooded.  However, a few trees had been cleared down the descent toward the monastery, creating a “window” that framed the Abbey which was located well over a mile in the distance.

I snapped a quick photo of the large, wooden cross that stood by the trail.  I looked at my watch and saw that it was nearly 11:00 a.m.  For some reason I felt rushed.  Lunch was served promptly at noon each day.  The lady who worked in the kitchen had already given me “the look” a couple of times when I showed up at the serving line just as things were being put away.  Monastery guest house or not, “the look” was as loaded with negative vibes as any I had ever seen anywhere.  It seemed to be saying, “Dude, you’ve got gray hair!  Can’t you tell time?”

Maybe it was wisdom.  Maybe is was a still, quiet voice.  Maybe it was the fact that I had just spent time reflecting in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But, something brought to my heart and mind the words that Jesus spoke to Peter, James, and John when He returned to find them sleeping.  “Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour?” (Matt. 26:40; Mark 14:37).

What was my rush?  Why the hurry?  It had taken me nearly 50 years to make it to this place.  Why did I want to leave?  For lunch?  I remembered His words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).  I should at least wait until my heart rate got back down into the double digits and my respiration returned to normal.

“Tim, can’t you keep watch with Me for one hour?”

“Yes, Lord, I can.  Yes, Lord, I will.”

I sat down on the small bench in front of the cross, looking out toward the distant Abbey.  I closed my eyes and began to pray.  I spent time in thought, then opened my eyes and prayed some more; it was really more like talking.  I wondered, “Shouldn’t my prayers be more like this anyway?”  I thought about how sleepy Peter, James, and John must have been.  Since I had not been sleeping well at night (more on that later), I was feeling a bit drowsy myself and was tempted to stretch out on the bench.  I resisted, and kept watching and waiting.

I heard the pealing of the distant chapel bells at each quarter-hour until they finally announced the arrival of noon.  The hour had passed rather quickly.  It had been spent far more meaningfully than it would have been if I had scrambled down the trail like Pavlov’s dog, enslaved to the dinner bell, and desperately seeking “the food which perishes” (John 6:27).  The bowl of oatmeal that I had for breakfast would sufficiently satisfy me until the evening meal.

I resolved to more regularly seek hours in which to “watch and pray” when I returned home from my retreat.

Jesus Praying in the Garden – Abbey of Gethsemani

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November 2012